Lamma Island in Hong Kong, two passenger ferries have collided, causing the death of at least 37 people. Over 100 people were rescued from the water but authorities fear there may be others trapped in the wreckage.
One ferry was taking employees of the Hong Kong Electric Company, together with their families, to watch fireworks, as part of China's National Day celebrations.
A passenger ferry, heading for southeastern Lamma Island, plowed into the first ferry at high speed, causing the boat to capsize.
, director for Hong Kong Electric, told reporters, "Our ferry left Lamma Island at 8:15pm to watch the fireworks display out at sea, but within a few minutes, a tugboat [which turned out to be another ferry] smashed into our vessel."
Shortly after the collision, the ferry began to sink vertically and over 100 people were tossed into the sea. Survivors of the collision said that some people were trapped as the ship went under the water, and were forced to break windows to escape.
One of the survivors, a middle-aged woman, told Reuters
, "We thought we were going to die. Everyone was trapped inside."
Another survivor said that they had little time to put on life jackets before the ferry flooded. One male survivor on the shore told reporters, "Within 10 minutes, the ship had sunk. We had to wait at least 20 minutes before we were rescued."
A mass rescue operation, involving helicopters, dive teams and many boats was launched, and the search is still underway, amid fears that other victims may still be trapped on board the sunken ferry.
A Hong Kong government statement said: "Over 100 people were sent to five hospitals during the incident; nine of them have sustained serious injuries or are in critical condition."
Ng Kuen-chi, acting deputy director of fire services in Hong Kong told local television, “We also don't rule out that some may have swam to shore themselves and haven't contacted their families and so may not be accounted for."
Authorities in Hong Kong have ordered a thorough investigation into the crash, which occurred during the busiest time in the city's waterways, with flotillas of ships gathering to watch the China Day celebration fireworks.
According to a maritime department spokesman, "Normally vessels ought to stay and help other vessels in distress. But what we heard was that the other ship had passengers who were injured and needed help." Investigators have not yet been able to talk to the captain of the ferry to ascertain what caused the collision.
The disaster is the worst to hit Hong Kong since 1996, when 40 people died in a commercial building fire. While minor accidents happen with the ferries, disasters of this magnitude are rare.